The next step for Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI) and the Solid Waste Committee is to submit the policy to Cabinet for consideration.
“The direction for managing waste holistically is the 4R Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle concept and making the decision to stop importing or using a product that is difficult to deal with or harmful is an example of Refuse,” said WATSAN director Jaime Short.
“Awareness only goes so far and the issues from non-biodegradable waste, especially plastic, is very real and it is time to act on what we know because we really do not have a choice.”
Miss Cook Islands, Alanna Smith from Te Ipukarea Society says she is excited to see the policy being pushed forward to Cabinet.
During her participation in the Miss World competition in China last year, she spoke of the significant waste management issues the Cook Islands is facing, and about her work with the Te Ipukarea Society in raising awareness both within government and among the general population.
“A ban on polystyrene would be a significant step forward in addressing the issue, though there are many other forms of plastic pollution that we also need to make progress on,” Smith said.
She was particularly encouraged to hear that prime minister Henry Puna had shared her concern about plastic waste during last year’s launch of the Joint National Action Plan for Climate Change and Disaster Risk reduction.
Te Ipukarea technical director Kelvin Passfield said he was keen to see government start moving on the issue.
The committee is promoting a ban on polystyrene products because they are non-biodegradable and considered a threat to human health and to other living things.
“It is now time to start implementing a better approach to waste management, some waste has a value here as compost or reusable items, but those such as polystyrene takeaway containers represent a one-time use product which does not breakdown in landfills,” National Environment Service director Joseph Brider explained.
“It litters our island and pollutes the ocean. Alternatives to polystyrene are available that are biodegradable and contribute positively to our national waste management goals.”
If all goes according to plan the import ban on polystyrene will be placed on a schedule under the Solid Waste Act.
This approach provides for a simpler method for adding other problematic products to the schedule of banned items over time.
“Crown Law and the New Zealand Parliamentary Council office legal drafters are doing an amazing job taking our ‘wants’ and operational aspects and developing them into legislative language and providing advice and options on how we can shape the Act,” Short said.
“The committee expects this Act to come into effect before the end of 2018. We are hopeful Cabinet will approve the single-use polystyrene ban, and if it is passed, we will ensure importers, vendors and the wider community are informed quickly.
“There is no intention or desire to place hardship on anyone at all and we hope that consumers support the food vendors if there is a price increase in their favourite dish after the switch to alternatives.
“Alternatives do cost more than polystyrene at the moment, but with more use, the alternative products should become cheaper over time.
“We hope to move on to other products that cause harm and have better alternatives, or are non-recyclable in the coming years, for the benefit of our people, the environment and economy.”